Aug 08 Protesters seize on Olympics to push their causes

Aug. 08, 2008, 7:52 p.m. (ET)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) As a massive fireworks display heralded the start of the Beijing Olympics on Friday, protesters as far away as California tried to redirect the spotlight to the lack of religious freedom in China and human rights abuses in Tibet.

Buddhist monks holding up the Tibetan flag and chanting a Sanskrit mantra for love and compassion led between two hundred and three hundred protesters bearing banners across the Golden Gate Bridge. The crowd, clad in yellow, drew honks and the occasional "Free Tibet" cheers from passing tourists.

"The Olympics for China is a giant spectacle, a game, but for us it's much more than that - it's a chance to call attention to what is happening in Tibet," said Tsering Gyurmey, of San Francisco, who is a member of the Tibetan Association of Northern California.

While Tibetans insist they were an independent nation before the Chinese communist invasion in 1950, China holds they've controlled the Himalayan region for centuries.

These demonstrators echoed concerns being voiced around the world.

In Ankara, Turkey, an anti-China protester set himself on fire Friday outside the Chinese embassy to bring attention to the Uighurs, an ethnic minority seeking greater autonomy in China.

In Nepal and India, thousands of Tibetan exiles took to the streets.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, brother Jerry Payne of the Conventual Franciscans marched in solidarity with Catholic priests bishops who have been detained in China.

On Thursday, three Americans who were detained and ejected from China after unfurling a banner reading "Jesus Christ is king" in Tiananmen Square landed in Los Angeles and were greeted by a cheering crowd. Two others, detained after climbing poles near Beijing's Olympic stadium bearing banners with pro-Tibet slogans, were flown to San Francisco.

The protests followed the Olympic flame's marred relay. In Paris, London and San Francisco, marches and attempts to put out the torch escalated as opposition to Chinese rule in the Tibetan region met with violence.

Students for a Free Tibet reported that three other Americans were detained in China Friday, just an hour before the opening ceremony, for waving the Tibetan national flag.

"I want to support the faithful," Payne said. "The Chinese government can be, let's say, difficult. Maybe all this attention will push them to change."

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